On Saturday 27 November 2010, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. It is the 180th Anniversary of the Apparition of Our Lady to St Catherine Labouré, a Daughtera of Charity, in Paris, Sisters’ chapel at Rue du Bac in 1830. *** The apparition of 27th November 1830 occurred on the first day of a particular liturgical season: “on Saturday night, the eve of the first Sunday of Advent”. The Advent liturgy urges us to prepare our hearts to welcome Christ, the light of the world. On 27th November 1830 Mary appeared to St. Catherine as a woman bathed in light, as someone who precedes the Sun of Justice “as dawn comes before morning”.
“I saw the Blessed Virgin, standing, dressed in white; she was of medium height and her face was so beautiful that it would be impossible for me to describe that beauty.” – said Catherine Laboure…
Since 18th July, Sister Catherine had known from experience Mary’s sweetness, tenderness and consideration for others. In that very deep relationship she had with the Blessed Virgin, she gazed on the face of Mary and saw reflected there the mystery and truth of what Our Lady represents. However, during the second apparition, Sister Catherine is even more struck by Mary’s indescribable beauty, radiant with wondrous light. The grace of God is reflected on her countenance and this led Catherine to declare, “her face was so beautiful that I couldn’t describe it.”
On 27th November Mary reveals to Catherine the source of her radiance: it comes from her special identity as the one who was “conceived without sin” She is the Immaculate One, full of grace. In Mary Immaculate, Catherine discovers the “New Creation”, the creature who benefited from the Resurrection even from the first instant of her conception. She is the first fruits of the Risen Christ. After Jesus, she is the first among creatures to be resurrected and this shows that if Christ’s humanity has triumphed, so, too, has his plan of salvation. Mary, the first to be saved, is the model of all human-kind. She reflects the glory that Christ radiated at the Transfiguration, just as one day it will be radiated by those who are raised from the dead.
Throughout her entire life Mary was utterly transparent and completely open to the Holy Spirit. She allowed herself to be molded by the infinite Yes of Love. In her, earth welcomes its God. At the foot of the Cross Mary is there to receive God’s Gift. She is there because she is the Mother. And she is the Mother because she is there. It was she who gave life to the God who is dying, but He alone is the source of life. At that agonizing moment when Jesus gave his life for the salvation of the world, the Cross descended on her heart like a sword. The heart of Jesus is so closely linked to that of Mary that in this living union the disciple will always be able to draw from the life of God.
The golden globe surmounted by a small cross that Mary holds in her hands is her way of bringing us into the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption. At Christmas time, Christ comes among us and the light of Easter shines over our earth. In a gesture of offering, Mary presents to God a world that is redeemed and resurrected. Is not this a prophetic vision of the universal harmony of nature and of history, of people and of the cosmos, towards which mankind is heading?
“Mary’s fingers that held the globe were covered in rings studded with precious stones. These stones gave out beams of light that were of dazzling radiance.”
This apparition, coming as it does in the days before Christmas, could be asking us to share the experience of the shepherds in Bethlehem. Just as these men were led by a great light to Mary and the infant Jesus, the rays “of dazzling brightness” lead Sister Catherine to a deeper understanding of God’s grace. The rays of light coming from Mary’s hands are the symbol of God’s love that comes to dissipate the darkness in us and in the world.
God has visited us and showed his infinite love, even to the extent of dying on the Cross. He still visits us today, to ceaselessly renew our world interiorly by the grace of his Holy Spirit. But the divine act of salvation is truly effective in human history only when it touches our hearts. In the Gospel, Jesus’ presence among people does not automatically bring salvation: very much the opposite; there are people who ignore or reject salvation, “his own received him not”.
In the stones that “do not give out light” are we not led to think about that line of the Magnificat: “He sends the rich away empty? Isn’t Mary helping us to realise that we find it difficult to be always turned towards God, to give Him first place in our lives, and to ask Him for the grace to live as God’s children. Like the shepherds who received the Good News, we, too, are invited to live more and more in a spirit of evangelical poverty: “Happy are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Mary reminds us how important it is to ask for this grace every day in our prayers.
Why did Mary leave us a sign? What is it a sign of? The visible thing that the “mother of every disciple” gives us, is surely meant to lead us to things unseen. Just as Mary prepared the servants at the Cana marriage feast to listen to the Word of Jesus, she continues in our own day to give us a sign that will help us to make progress along the path of faith and trust so that we can become true “disciples of Jesus.”
When the words of the short prayer “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you” come to our lips, we are asking Mary to pray for us that we may increasingly become “disciples who believe in Him.” As at Cana, Mary makes known what it means to be a believer: we have to do all that God tells us and practise unreserved availability.
Mary has a special place in the symbolism of the Medal, just as she had at Cana. The Medal leads us to contemplate God through the person of Mary. She is not at God’s side but in front of Him; not in order to hide Him but to make Him appear in a light that is human, feminine and maternal. Leonardo Buff says that “In Mary we see the feminine face of God.”
Wearing the Medal means taking Mary into our hearts, taking her into “our home” and fervently praying, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.” Wearing the Medal means welcoming Mary and entering into the radiance of her motherly love, learning from her words, “to do whatever he tells us.” It is to become, like her, the place where God finds a welcome in the world, it means bringing God to birth in our own times. Wearing the Medal means being open to the presence of the Risen Christ in our world and joining with Him in serving our brothers and sisters. Mary is asking us not simply to “distribute” the medal but also to “radiate” her smile and shed around us the light of the Risen Christ. Giving the medal to someone is a way of approaching others as Mary and Jesus did.
“O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to you“